On the latest edition of Open Book, I lead a discussion on whether or not independent authors should design their own book covers.
It comes down to three basic questions.
HOW MUCH EXPERIENCE DO YOU HAVE WITH GRAPHIC DESIGN?
If the answer is you've never done anything artistic or related to graphic design in your life, then NO, you should not design your own cover. You can learn. It is never too late to start. However, the cover for your own book is not the place to start.
HOW FAMILIAR ARE YOU WITH PHOTOSHOP?
There are other programs out there, some of them free. However, in my experience there is no substitute to Photoshop. Unless you are extremely talented, you are not going to get a professional cover with most other programs.
HOW PREPARED ARE YOU TO SPEND THE 10,000 HOURS IT TAKE TO BECOME A PRO?
As a child, my goal was to become a comic book artist. I spent 3 hours a day drawing and kept that up until my mid twenties. My mother was painter and I took several classes with her. I've used the slimmed down version of Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, for about 5 years.
Even with that background, I still had to spend 3-4 hours a day for over six months before I felt competent doing cover art.
BONUS: YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY ARE NOT EXPERTS
Never ask your friends and family if they like your cover. They are all going to say they do, even if they don't. Unless they are graphic designers, their opinion is not valid.
Back in March, 2017, I joined a taping of The Writer's Edge to discuss when you should turn a book into a series and when you should not.
If you are considering turning your book into a series, here are a few questions you should ask yourself.
DOES YOUR GENRE SUPPORT A SERIES?
Some genres (e.g. fantasy) almost require a series. In the video above, we tried to think of a fantasy novel that was not part of a series. Although I'm sure they exist, we couldn't think of one. Similarly, mystery and science fiction also support serial writing. However, be cautious about writing romance series, especially if you're dealing with one main couple. The audience is only going to last so long with the "will they, won't they" question before they get bored.
DOES YOUR STORY SUPPORT A SERIES?
Is the story you want to tell big enough and complex enough to span several books. One of the fastest ways to lose your audience is trying to spread out a very small story across far too many pages. The panel discuss the TV series How I Met Your Mother. The consensus was that series should have ended years earlier. It was only kept alive because everyone was making money. While this is tempting, it diminishes the entire work. Remember, works of art, like people, are defined just as much by their endings as their beginnings.
HAVE YOU DELIVERED ON ALL YOUR PROMISES?
The panel discussed a noobie mistake: ending your book on an incomplete cliffhanger. Cliffhangers, in general CAN work, but, if done improperly, can insult your reader and ensure they never read another one of your books. When you start the book, you make a series of promises to your reader. You are promising that certain plot points and certain character arches will be fully contained in that one book. You need to deliver on that promise. Remember, this may be the only one of your books the reader ever reads.
It's easy to determine what points you are promising to deal with in this book. Each book in a series should have a specific theme or a "beat". Think of the Guardians of the Galaxy Two. It was about fatherhood and redemption. If it had ended with Yondu floating in space instead of showing his funeral, it would have weakened the entire movie. The funeral was the sign that Yondu had finally redeemed himself. It also allowed Peter Quill an chance to see how Yondu had been a real father to him.
Endings are hard, but you owe it to your reader to wrap things up.
BE CAUTIONS WHEN WRITING ALL THE BOOKS AT ONCE
As a staff member of Ellysian Press, I recently edited a trilogy that had been written all at once. All three books were completely written before the editing process began. This does offer benefits. It speeds up the process with which books can be released. This increased momentum may improve your sales.
One problem with it, however, is it is very easy for the writer to miss giving specific cues to the reader. As a rule, you should never assume the reader remembers every detail from the previous book. As a writer, it is usually very clear in your mind. However, you may leave necessary reminders off the page.
Also, over time, each time you go through the editing process, you will become a better writer. Readers fully expect that book three in a series will be stronger than book one. If you try to speed up the process, you are risking your growth.
Are you a writer looking to attract the attention of a publisher? Maer Wilson and Jen Ryan, the publishers of Ellysian Press discuss how to write a query letter to attract the attention of a publisher. They are joined by staff members and writers of Ellysian Press to discuss the dos and don'ts of submissions.